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Three attacks in one week against migrant youth centers in Catalonia

Regional government calls the incidents racist, and admits its services are overwhelmed by a 145% spike in arrivals

Police guarding the Cal Ganxo center in Castelldefels.
Police guarding the Cal Ganxo center in Castelldefels.

The Catalan government has decided to speed up the transfer of a group of unaccompanied migrant minors whose center was attacked by 25 hooded individuals last Saturday.

The regional chief of social and family affairs, Chakir El Homrani, said on Tuesday that the decision to move the group out the Cal Ganxo center in Castelldefels (Barcelona) “was made for their own and their educators welfare.”

Racism is defined by attributing the traits of individuals to an entire group

Catalan official Oriol Amorós

In an interview on the Catalan television station TV3, El Homrani admitted that the transfer is taking place two days ahead of the planned date.

The Catalan government is describing the Saturday incident as an intolerable and unjustifiable racist attack, and said it would file a complaint with the hate crimes prosecutor.

But the mayor of Castelldefels, María Miranda, used milder language and talked about fights between local and migrant youths.

There have been three attacks on centers for immigrant minors in a week. The spike in arrivals – 1,489 minors in 2017 and 3,659 in 2018 – has collapsed the Catalan services, and there are growing signs of social friction.

Racism will keep increasing, because you can’t just open the door and let everybody in

Jesús, retiree

Blanca Arbell, the mayor of Canet de Mar, where another center for migrant minors was attacked on March 5, said that “the tension is going down” after two difficult weeks in which a group of around 40 local residents staged a public protest against growing insecurity, which they blamed on the unaccompanied migrant youths.

Five days later, a man armed with a machete broke into the Can Xatrac center, which is home to around 50 of these minors. Nobody was injured and the man was arrested.

Castelldefells attack

According to accounts of the Saturday incident, a group of local youths were drinking and smoking outdoors at around 6pm when several immigrant youths crossed their path on their way to the Cal Ganxo center, where they have been living since December. An argument broke out, and youths hurled stones at one another. Three hours later, the local youngsters decided to settle the score, and 25 of them broke into the center, where they damaged furniture and turned on workers and migrants alike. One youth was pulled down from a wall and attacked with stones. Two educators suffered bruising.

The following day, an even larger group of around 60 people attempted to go back into Cal Ganxo, but police officers from the Mossos d’Esquadra force held them back.

C. M., a 23-year-old who participated in the attack, says that “since nobody was paying any attention to us, we decided to make a stand.” According to him, there is an ongoing conflict between his own group, made up of 17 to 24-year-olds, and migrant youths “who come over and ask you for a cigarette or a joint, and if you don’t give it to them they scratch or kick your car.”

The arrival of immigrant youths has been used politically

Blanca Arbell, Mayor Canet de Mar

C.M. claims that ever since these youths showed up in town, “theft is going up, cars are being vandalized, and people are scared to go out at night because it’s full of Arabs.”

The mayor of Canet de Mar, Blanca Arbell, blames the crime “on outside mafias” and says that the arrival of immigrant youths “has been used politically.” While there are reports of burglaries, data provided by municipal and regional police suggest that these have gone down.

The locals are divided over the presence of the minors. A retiree named Jesús said that “racism will keep increasing, because you can’t just open the door and let everybody in.” A woman who lives next door to the Can Xatrac center said she has never had any trouble with the youths.

“Racism is defined by attributing the traits of individuals to an entire group,” said the Catalan secretary for equality, migration and citizenship, Oriol Amorós, alluding to the latest incidents. But he insisted that at most of the 150 centers scattered throughout Catalonia, the migrants are well received.

“We don’t believe the situation is cause for concern,” he said, although he admitted that authorities have been overwhelmed by a 145% spike in arrivals.

The Spanish Network for Immigration and Assistance for Refugees issued a release expressing concern at “the escalation of violence and the serious incidents,” which this organization blamed on “the shortage of resources and the non-existence of a realistic involvement by the institutions” in the effort to come up with efficient solutions to foment social harmony, encourage neighbor mediation and increase resources.

English version by Susana Urra.

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